CAD/CAM as a sophisticated industry actually got its start within large industries which had the most to gain from automating the design and manufacturing process. Historically, these large companies, especially those within the aerospace and automotive industries, have been responsible for some of the most significant advances in the art and practice of CAD/CAM.
In the late 1960's and early 1970's entrepreneurs began to create companies which were based upon this emerging technology, many of them still in existence in 1990. The turnkey industry is, of course, much older than the desktop CAD industry, but it is also much older than the entire PC software industry. For example, Calma began business in 1968, Computervision, Applicon and Intergraph (as M&S Computing) in 1969.
During that period of more than twenty years, the turnkey vendors have managed to develop some very useful applications based upon sophisticated software components, and have changed hardware platforms (and even languages) many times. By the time desktop CAD appeared on the scene in the early 1980's, the turnkey vendors had already invested thousands and thousands of man-years in the development of their systems and had solved most of the basic problems associated with design, drafting, analysis, and manufacturing.
Although the companies representing the turnkey CAD/CAM industry are not doing particularly well lately, they have as a group introduced a generation of engineers and designers to the use of computer-assisted techniques, and in their efforts laid the foundation for the eventual success of desktop CAD.
One of the areas in which the turnkey vendors have made significant progress, far beyond the ability of most manufacturing companies to keep up through internal development, is in their ability to represent and manipulate ``difficult'' geometry. It is in this area that the level of technology between early desktop CAD and turnkey CAD differed the most. Whereas desktop CAD provided lines, arcs, circles, and occasionally splines and conic sections, the turnkey systems offered a fully parametric wireframe and surface modeling capability attempting to support sophisticated mechanical applications such as 3- and 5-axis N/C. This difference in modeling representation is only now beginning to change as the desktop vendors begin to climb the technology curve.
What caused the rapid success of desktop CAD, and why didn't the turnkey vendors themselves benefit by the revolution which was plainly occurring? Why wasn't Computervision or Calma, for example, the first one to offer CAD on a desktop? Why did the success of desktop CAD await the founding of companies such as Autodesk?
Although these questions are fundamental, the answers to them have more to do with self-image and perceived destiny, than with business.
To begin to understand how truly different Autodesk is from the turnkey companies, consider how these high-end vendors view themselves.
Editor: John Walker